Leahy accuses Bush of ‘religious McCarthyism’

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy is accusing the White House of engaging in “religious McCarthyism.” The administration claims Leahy opposes one of the president’s judicial nominees because the person is a Catholic. Leahy, who’s Catholic, says it’s the most outrageous charge that he’s encountered during his five terms in the U.S. Senate.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Leahy told members of the Senate Judiciary that he’s fed up with the way that the White House is treating Democrats on his committee. The Democrats have blocked several of the president’s nominees to the federal appellate court because they say the individuals hold ultra conservative views on a number of key issues including abortion.

A Republican group recently ran a media campaign accusing Leahy and the other Democrats on the committee of opposing one of the nominees, William Pryor for religious reasons.

Pryor is a Catholic and the radio ads charge that the Democrats are blocking Pryor because of their anti Catholic sentiments. Leahy, who is also a Catholic, is furious at the charge:

(Leahy) “I’ve been here 29 years I’ve never heard anything so irresponsible as to call the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee anti-Catholic. It is outrageous, it’s being orchestrated by the White House and it’s a kind of religious McCarthyism. They sent up a very, very extreme – ideologically extreme – candidate for the circuit court of appeals; somebody who wouldn’t get through most Senates. And all of a sudden because we say the person is too extreme would be unfair as a judge they say ‘Oh, it’s because you’re anti Catholic.'”

(Kinzel) On another issue involving religion and politics, the Vatican has issued a statement warning Catholic politicians in this country not to support gay marriage, rights for gay couples or laws that allow gay couples to adopt children. The letter says support for these positions is “gravely immoral.”

Leahy, who supports Vermont’s Civil Union law and adoption rights for gay couples, says the Vatican’s letter will have no effect on his voting record.

(Leahy) “The Vatican has a right to say whatever they want, but every one of us takes an oath of office to uphold not any church leader, but to uphold the Constitution of the United States. That’s the oath I take. It’s a very solemn oath and I’ll uphold the Constitution of the United States, which has a complete separation of church and state. You cannot have church leaders no matter what faith. It is direct, how members of their faith shall vote.”

(Kinzel) Leahy says he believes the Vermont Legislature made the right decision when it passed the civil union law after the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that gay couples are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities that heterosexual couples have.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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